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Demand for safety net shelter program rises: 'We somehow find additional space'

Posted at 8:02 PM, Dec 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-27 23:40:35-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As leaders and experts in Richmond will soon begin examining solutions to the homelessness problems facing the city, more than 500 families and individuals are currently seeking shelter, according to Homeward, the non-profit coordinating homelessness services in the region.

Richmond chose to halt congregate shelter for the homeless community during the pandemic because of crowding concerns at the indoor cold weather overflow shelter. Those needing immediate shelter are provided a hotel room instead. In past years, around 100-150 people each night were admitted to the cold weather overflow shelter, according to Homeward.

Those indeed of shelter should call the homeless crisis line at 804-972-0813 or visit https://www.homewardva.org/help.

Faith Kallman, the Director of Development for Homeward, said the safety net shelter program, launched in November, which continued on the hotel shelter model launched in March, provides people who are unsheltered with services and allows the organization to better understand the individuals they are assisting. The demand for services, she said, continues to grow.

“We keep expecting a number and then the number grows and we somehow find additional space and we continue to work,” Kallman said. “The benefit is it allows us to not only see who it is, but also put those wrap around services around them if they’re interested.”

Community members and advocates have been critical of the decision to close a dedicated facility for the homeless population and said the intake process has led to confusion for some people who need services. Saturday night, a man contacted the CBS 6 newsroom asking how he could get help finding shelter from the cold.

Kallman said they have increased staffing and hours or operation for the homeless crisis line. While some callers might be sent to a voicemail later in the day, those messages are returned the next day, she said.

“It broke my heart when you said there was someone who had to call the station to get help because that means we missed someone and we don’t want to miss anyone,” Kallman said. “We work as hard to make sure that as few people as possible fall into that and when they are brought to our attention we work very hard and diligently to make sure we get them into the system.”

As first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney is convening a “Homelessness Advisory Council” aimed at providing recommendations on “the path forward to better serve those in Richmond experiencing homelessness.”

“Homelessness is a complex social issue, and we need to understand what is working well and where there are challenges that need acknowledgment and a plan to get them addressed. Ultimately, we need to reach a consensus on the best way to expend city resources to address this multilayered problem as we move forward with the implementation of the Homeless Strategic Plan,” Stoney wrote in a letter to city council members.

Stephanie Lynch, who represents the 5th district, said she plans to work on the council. Lynch said the intake process and how services are provided must be examined. The biggest issue for Lynch, though, is boosting the affordable housing stock in the region.

“Homelessness is not a one-pronged issue. It’s not a one-pronged problem, and it’s not a one-pronged solution,” Lynch said. “You can case manage and get someone into services all day long, but you can’t magically make $1,000 appear for folks so they can get into their apartment.”

Homeward plans to significantly contribute to the advisory council, Kallman said.

“That’s really our goal, that this council will allow accurate information to come out that this data driven, and we can put our efforts where we have the best results for the most people,” she said. “We can get every person who is homeless off the street and into the front door. Until we address the back door issues, affordable housing, until we address wrap around services and support services, this crisis will continue.”

If you or someone you know if facing homelessness, call the Homeless Crisis Line at 804-972-0813 or Visit an Access Point or Connection Point.

At these physical locations, Greater Richmond Continuum of Care member or partner organizations will offer a safe, welcoming indoor space and access to the pipeline of care through the Homeless Crisis Line or a case worker.

Connection Points in the City of Richmond include the following:

  • RVA Light – 504 W Broad St.REAL Life – 406 E Main St.OAR of Richmond – 3111 W Clay St.
  • Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library – 101 E Franklin St.
  • Southside Plaza – 4100 Hull Street Rd.

These are in addition to the GRCoC Access Points where services are provided. You can see a complete systems map, provided by the GRCoC, here.